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Franky's Story, The Animal Assistant

Posted Tuesday, February 7, 2012, at 8:04 AM

Franky the dog, is a rambunctious two-year old Foxhound mix. He was found abandoned in Shelby County and given to the Collierville Animal Shelter. With no family willing to adopt him, the shelter's administrators decided to put Franky through the PPAWS (Prison Puppies Achieving Worthy Service) program. The PPAWS program is one in which prisoners work with young dogs in a mutually beneficial relationship. The dogs are taught basic obedience and socialization skills while the inmates develop a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of giving back. Franky was more interested in playing than learning new skills and was therefore not successful in his first attempt at this program. In fact, he earned the nickname "Rascal" and was returned to the shelter. After a few months and with a little maturity under his belt, Franky returned and successfully completed the PPAWS program. Despite having acquired new skills, Franky was still not able to find a "forever" home.

It looked as if Franky was running out of time when Brad Smith intervened. Brad had been looking for a dog to adopt and train as a therapy dog. In his quest, he had seen pictures of Franky on the Internet. On April 3, 2011, Brad, Tracey his wife, their three small children and Jake, their Great Dane, made the drive from Dyersburg to the Collierville Animal Shelter to "interview" Franky. Franky and Jake sniffed and participated in the typical dog hand shaking ceremony. Brad's 2-year-old son found this ritual interesting and attempted to participate but was quickly stopped. At the end of the visit, papers were completed and plans were made for the Collierville Animal Shelter staff to deliver Franky to the Smith home in Dyersburg. On April 4, Franky became an official member of the Smith Family.

Once at his new home, Franky sniffed every inch of baseboard and each piece of furniture. He played with the kids, two outside dogs, and Jake. Franky soon sat at the door and Brad put on his leash as he determined that Franky needed to go outside. Franky walked straight to the car and sat by the door. He looked as though he was saying, "Ok, I am ready to go home now." The family, which now included Franky, all piled in the truck and headed for Hollywood Feed to get his mind off being "home sick." Franky seemed to like Hollywood Feed where he made himself the center of attention. He picked out some chew toys and the kids picked out a new ID tag. The family headed back to the Smith home where Franky soon decided that this new home was a pretty good place.

All went well for the next four or five weeks as Franky acclimated to his new home. On May 10, Franky began his journey to becoming a Therapy animal by beginning his obedience training at Dog Woods of Memphis. Upon arriving at Dog Woods, Franky was once again quite the character. Everything he had learned up to this point was out the window. He continuously tried to be the center of attention. At first, all eyes were to be on Franky 100% of the time. But by the end of the first class, Franky was getting back on track and seemed to remember his earlier training from the PPAWS program. As the classes progressed, Brad's wife, Tracey, would ask what they did at obedience school. Brad would respond by explaining what they had learned. Tracey soon came to the conclusion that her husband would have been sent to obedience school years ago if she had only known how much he would learn. Franky and Brad, continued to improve throughout the six week course and during the "final exam" Franky performed best in class and earned the coveted "Gold Star Squeaky Toy Award".

The duo continued to work on their newly acquired skills and soon began the second step in their Therapy dog journey. On September 24, they enrolled in the Therapy Team Training Workshop offered through Mid South Therapy Dogs. During this series of trainings, Franky seemed very bored, vocal and often rolled on the floor to get attention. His persistence prompted the other participants to look at him as if to say, "what are you doing here and why are you wasting your time?" The mid-term for the series of workshops was the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen test. This tests the teams on a series of skills and behaviors to ensure the animal is a "good citizen" out in public. When Franky and Brad showed up for their scheduled test time, a few of the other participants looked in disbelief and with complete confidence that this duo would fail the test. Prior to his turn in the testing room, Franky was his usual attention seeking self, but as soon as he entered the testing room the switch was turned on. Franky performed flawlessly on all exercises but one. Each team had one chance to correct any mistakes. Franky took the opportunity allowing him to achieve a perfect score. So, on October 16, Franky became an AKC Canine Good Citizen.

From October through December, Franky and Brad continued to hone their therapy skills. All of the training and practice culminated in their final test on December 1. Brad and Franky participated in the Delta Society's Pet Partners Skills and Aptitude Test. Unlike his "Good Citizen" test appearance, Franky had earned the respect of the other participants as he arrived. When his time came to test, Franky performed like a pro. Franky and Brad had now completed all of the necessary requirements to be registered through the Delta Society as an official Pet Partner Team. Franky is now qualified to provide Animal Assisted Activities (AAA). This enables Franky and Brad opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance the quality of life for the recipients. They are also certified through Animal Assisted Therapies (AAT), a more formal process than AAA, which is overseen by health or human services providers.

Although Brad and Franky attain several milestones, their ultimate goal of helping others has not yet been fully reached. Currently, they can provide services in schools, healthcare settings, nursing homes and other public or private places, but they lack one certification. To reach their ultimate goal, they plan to participate in training that will improve the reading skills of students who may be falling behind grade level. Recent studies show when students read to an animal, their heart rates decrease, blood pressure is lowered, and overall anxiety is decreased. These factors help students perform and build their reading skills and self-confidence. Children who read to animals do not feel that they are being judged. Franky knows what it is like to be behind the learning curve. He also knows what it is like to be judged and to have people show no confidence in his abilities. But Franky loves kids and attention. Could there be a better way for dog of his caliber to get these two things than helping others? Franky has been given second, third, and sometimes even fourth chances. He has worked hard and learned many skills. Now it is his time to give back and to show others that a little gentleness and kindness can make a big difference.

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Neel Durbin
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